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Reflections on Worth

Amber Litka, UNC Social Work Intern

For eight months, I have had the honor to work with the NC Housing Coalition as a social work intern as part of a dual-master’s program with Duke Divinity School and the UNC School of Social Work. Social work as a profession strives to embody the key values of social justice and recognizing the inherent worth and dignity of all people. These specific principles are found in the work of the Coalition where the staff and members hold an overarching desire to do work that advocates for the basic needs of all people to be met, specifically through the provision of safe, affordable housing.

Coming into the Coalition, I knew I was becoming a part of a policy and advocacy organization, but little did I know what all that entailed. One of the Coalition’s priorities is to provide its members with relevant, up-to-date information that reflects legislative changes and possibilities at the federal, state, and local levels. In order to do this, staff remain in a constant cycle of gathering, researching, analyzing, and interpreting sector information from a variety of sources so that it can be shared with members in a way that points out specific implications for the affordable housing field. In other words, the staff at the Coalition connect members to information that is not always easily accessible. I was able to participate in this work by assisting in finding relevant news articles to share on our website, and by updating some of the online resources we offer, such as county fact sheets and resource guides. Often the staff take this one step further in equipping members with strategies they can use to hold conversations with elected officials about specific legislative items that pertain to affordable housing and community development.

For me, I see the necessity of this advocacy level work because I have worked with families and individuals whose livelihood depended on housing affordability. My heart breaks at the fact that we live in a world where we have to fight for people to have access to something as basic as housing. Our society operates on the idea that there exists a ‘deserving poor’ in that only folks at a certain level of poverty deserve support. Usually, this ‘deserving poor’ are seen as productive members of society, but I believe it is time to reevaluate the meaning of ‘productive’ in a way that goes beyond economic engagement.

This work is about policy, change, advocacy, and affordability. But at the heart of it all, it is about people and the connection we have to each other as humankind.

Perhaps productivity should be more closely linked to the act of living such that a person’s active participation in breathing is enough to be seen as deserving a place to call home. My own faith perspective leads me to this consideration. For me, there is something divine and purposeful about breath. I reflect on the image of humankind as creation, and how Divine breath resulted in something as beautiful and complex as life. By simply breathing, we participate in this tradition of giving life by sharing our breath with the creation that surrounds us. I remain fascinated by the fact that a tree, in producing oxygen, contributes to the air I breathe, and that I offer the tree carbon dioxide it needs with my breath. There is value in breathing, and in the idea that morality and life are at stake when that value goes unseen. My hope is that the continued advocacy work of the Coalition, its members, and its partners will one day abolish the stigma that surrounds affordable housing in a way that is reflected in both policy and practice. This work is about policy, change, advocacy, and affordability. But at the heart of it all, it is about people and the connection we have to each other as humankind.

This level of policy and advocacy work never sleeps, as new information and ideas are constantly on the horizon. Advocating for policy change for the benefit of affordable housing is work that does not always incite immediate effects or transformation. Rather, it involves a long-term commitment to the idea that human life is valuable, and that a safe, affordable home is something each life deserves. I choose to embark on a journey where affordable housing is one way in which I acknowledge the value of all life around me. Will you join me?

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